A mysterious blonde murders a psychiatrist's patient. When a call girl witnesses the killing, she becomes the killer's next target...
In one of Brian DePalma's most celebrated films, his inventiveness is in top gear. He creates a heady blend, playing around with the audience's expectations, and after a brutally violent opening it then feels as though we have actually entered a sexual comedy of errors of some kind, as Angie Dickinson, fresh from a long stint in TV's Police Woman, gains our sympathy as bored and frustrated housewife Kate Miller, seeking thrills in a brilliantly staged and tense sequence in an art gallery. DePalma then pulls the rug out from under the viewer and throws them straight back into psychological mind games. Before long, we have entered another strand entirely as call girl Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) witnesses a brutal murder. A lady sassy enough to invest in art and stocks to secure her retirement, she becomes a damsel in distress as the killer stalks her in another incredible sequence on the New York subway.
Keith Gordon (later to turn director with the underrated A Midnight Clear) is Miller's technology obsessed son Peter, who uses some home grown surveillance gear to conduct his own investigation, whilst Michael Caine is the other ingredient in the stew, as Miller's psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Elliot. The killer just may be another of his patients, and his appointment book may hold the key to their identity...
Unfairly dismissed by some as a Hitchcock rip-off, Dressed To Kill does nevertheless have a good dose of his influence (and it could just as easily be argued that Hitchcock wore his own influences openly on his sleeve). It is perhaps the most commercially successful of De Palma's thriller cycle, although it isn't necessarily the very best movie of the bunch. That's not to damn it by any means, though. Certainly, the narrative is occasionally wayward, but there's no doubting that the ride is the main thing here, and it's an exhilarating one, stopping at some classic set pieces en route. Yes, the sexual and social attitudes of the time can seem a little dated now, the last 12-15 minutes do feel like an appendage too far, and it's kind of like De Palma is repeating himself a-lá-Carrie at the end, but the journey getting there is an exciting one.
For me, the changes of tempo, the genre hopping, as well as the theme of surveillance touched upon here would reach their apex in what I consider DePalma's masterpiece, the following year's Blow Out. However, even considering its flaws, Dressed To Kill is still in many ways an astonishing piece of work, visually poetic yet genuinely challenging and at times downright uncomfortable.
BLU-RAY NOTES: From Arrow Video, for the first time, Dressed To Kill appears in the UK in its original unrated cut. Now, I should stress that the last time I saw it was over 20 years ago, late one night on BBC1. Back then I had no idea how heavily re-edited the film had been, firstly to secure an R rating in the US, and then further for TV screenings. The full frontal nudity and sheer brutality of the opening scene was therefore a genuine shock. As I said to my wife...
Look, I know you won't believe this, but I REALLY don't remember this scene being in the film... I would have remembered this, surely?!?!?
Fortunately, my memory was confirmed by some useful extras, which compare the three different edits. It would have been nice to have had all three versions in full, but then again the version here is De Palma's original vision, and the transfer is absolutely superb. The 5.1 surround mix isn't a disappointment either, and Pino Donaggio's brilliant score sounds wonderful.
Plenty of other extras, too: Interviews with Dickinson, Allen, Gordon and producer George Litto, whilst a making-of documentary (from the previous US DVD) also features DePalma. The original trailer and a photo gallery round things off nicely.
PURPLE RATING: 8/10
USA 1980 - Filmways Pictures (originally American International, prior to corporate takeover)
Certificate - 18 (UK, originally X for edited version), R (USA, originally X for uncut version)
Blu-Ray/DVD: Arrow Films (UK), MGM (USA)
Original Theatrical Trailer